Body / No-Body
You are not confined to your body; you are everywhere. The limitation is your imagination.
The ‘secret’ of life that we are all looking for is simply this: to rest in the bodily experience of the present moment.
There is only a stream of sensations, perceptions, memories and ideations. The body is an abstraction, created by our tendency to seek unity in diversity.
The truth is that we are neither the body nor separated from it.
Even to say that you are not the body is not quite true. In a way, you are all the bodies, hearts and minds and much more. Go deep into the sense of ‘I am’ and you will find.
A wave does not have to stop being a wave in order to be water.
--Thich Nhat Hanh
When I see that I am nothing, that is wisdom; when I see that I am everything, that is love. Between the two, life flows.
By tuning into the body with awareness, by exploring it as pure sensation, we discover that there is no “body” (except as a mental concept, an abstraction of thought), and we discover that the whole universe is our body. The boundaries are not really there.
This realization isn’t something mystical and exotic. It is rather something so simple, so immediate, so obvious, so ever-present that we tend to overlook it because our attention is absorbed instead in the ubiquitous abstractions created by conceptual thought that are overlaid on top of bare being.
The actual experience Here / Now is nothing but ever-changing sensations. “The body” is an idea, a thought-form.
Take a few moments to look with awareness for the place where “inside of you” turns into “outside of you." Can you actually find a dividing line? Are the sounds you are hearing and the sights you are seeing inside of you or outside of you? You may think they are outside you, but can you see that this is a thought-idea super-imposed on the bare experiencing of seeing and hearing? Doesn't it all happen Here / Now, in this vast space of awareness that you are? Where exactly does your breath cross over from inside you to outside you? You can think of various places like the tip of the nose or the lips, but what is beholding the nose and the lips, and in your actual sensory experience of breathing, can you find an actual dividing line where the breath crosses over from inside to outside? Isn't it one seamless flowing whole without division?
We know from modern physics that at the subatomic level, there is no solidity or substance and no boundaries. And this is our actual present moment experience right now if we pay attention to sensations and bare perceptions rather than to ideas and concepts. But we tend to ignore our actual experience in favor of the conceptual overlay. We mistake the map for the territory.
We know from ecology that everything depends on everything else and that you cannot remove any part without altering the whole, but we easily overlook this in favor of our conceptual picture. We imagine a world of separate parts -- including “me”-- parts that can all be pulled apart and rearranged. Thus we imagine, “I could be somewhere else right now, and that would be better.” But there is no way to separate time and space, or to separate "me" from "this moment, exactly the way it is."
Bringing awareness to present moment sensory experiencing, to the actuality of the body, erases the body and the self completely, meaning that it erases the mirage of separate and enduring things and the imaginary boundaries between them, and it leaves only this seamless and all-inclusive boundlessness. Of course, we still have a functional sense of boundaries and of our body--that doesn't vanish into some formless mush. But on close investigation, we find that the boundaries and the forms don't really exist in the way we think they do.
The real body (no body at all) is not a cadaver or an anatomy book picture. It is alive and fluid and moving. Experientially, it is nothing but ever-changing sensations showing up in this vast awaring presence that includes the whole universe. And in fact, "the body" is an ever-moving process of blood circulating, cells dividing, nerves firing, heart beating, lungs expanding and contracting, food being taken in, broken down, disbursed or eliminated. The body is in constant exchange with the environment. The skin is porous and breathing, flaking off, regenerating. The breath is coming in and going out. Your body now is not the same body you had ten years ago, or ten days ago, or even back when you started reading this paragraph less than a minute ago. Everything has changed since then -- your hormones, your neurochemistry -- the whole universe has moved. Life is nothing but ceaseless change.
“Show me the Holy Reality,” a monk once asked the Master.
“It just moved!” the Master replied.
This aliveness does not hold still. A friend of mine who was a surgical nurse described the shock of interns making their first cut in a living body. They’ve studied the anatomy book, they’ve dissected the cadavers, but now they’re cutting into a living organism and suddenly everything is slippery and pulsating and moving, blood is gushing out, everything is moving. This is real life. Nothing holds still. It’s a mess. And yet, it all holds together in perfect harmony -- from the microscopic to the astronomical -- the universe functions with perfect order and intelligence, even when there seems to be conflict and disorder from a limited point of view.
The “You are not your body” pointer that we often hear in eastern spirtuality doesn’t point to denying or ignoring the body, or to some kind of mystical disappearance into thin air. It just points to the fluidity, the seamlessness, the boundlessness of everything, and to the fact that you are not limited to the body, nor are you encapsulated inside the body.
If we zoom far enough out, this planet is nothing but a tiny dot of light, and finally it disappears completely. If we zoom in close enough, at the subatomic level, we find mostly empty space and nothing solid. Either way, zoomed in or zoomed out, the world as we know it with all our personal and global dramas is no longer here. This realization puts the world drama and our personal dramas into perspective. That doesn't mean we ignore ordinary life, but we see it in a bigger context, without taking our ideas and beliefs about it quite so seriously.
We may also notice that whether the lens of attention is zoomed in or out, it all happens Here / Now. This boundless immediacy is never not here. This groundless ground (the ocean in every wave) is at once ever-present and ever-changing. It not a separate object that can be perceived or grasped. It is the undivided happening of this eternal present moment, the suchness or the aliveness that never comes, never goes and never stays the same.
In this simple presence, there is no “you” and no “body” and no “world” and no “problem to solve” until thinking begins labeling the sensations and telling a story. And that story is only another momentary shape that emptiness is taking, just like the bird songs and the traffic roar.
-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2011 --
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